1 #24 William Byron (15-1) -- This is much more than a hunch because he drives for the best team (Hendrick Motorsports), possesses the best equipment and has a bright future in the sport. But, yeah, it's still a hunch. He hasn't won at Darlington in any series, but I told myself after each of the last two races there that he was a driver that displayed the ability to respect "The Lady in Black" while also getting sneaky-fast finishes when she turned away. Byron was fifth in this race last season and fourth on the track in May. He knows how it works. Jeff Gordon found out how it works early on, as did Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and, eventually, Kevin Harvick. Byron has what it takes to win at Darlington.
2 #11 Denny Hamlin (5-1) -- "The Lady in Black" has had a crush on him since he started. He knows how to handle her in both series. He has three Cup Series wins (2010, 2017, 2020), 10 top-five finishes and 598 laps led, but his excellence on her is probably better explained in the Xfinity Series, in which he hardly ever races but recorded five wins at Darlington from 2006-17. Hamlin saves his tires better than anyone and doesn't lose as much speed as others in long green-flag runs. He posted seven wins last year but none in 2021. This is a great look for him to get his first win. Shop around for better prices than what Caesars is offering.
3 #5 Kyle Larson (11-4) -- He leads all active drivers with a sixth-place average finish in his seven starts at Darlington, which includes a runner-up in May. He also was runner-up in his previous race there in 2019 and finished third in 2018. He's led 500 laps and should have won the 2018 race after winning the first two stages and leading 284 laps. Larson has a better car now, and recorded three wins in his last six while using the low downforce package. He's a strong favorite, but shop around for the best price.
4 #19 Martin Truex Jr. (9-2) -- He's been stuck on three victories since winning at Darlington on May 9. He's a two-time winner there and has averaged an 11th-place finish while leading 692 laps. I like Truex, but not at Caesars Sportsbook's price.
5 #18 Kyle Busch (11-2) -- He won at Darlington in 2008, when they had only one race per season and had eliminated the famous tradition of the Southern 500 on Labor Day weekend. It's back now, but Busch still hasn't won it yet. He has just one win in 19 starts there, six top-fives and 725 laps led. He's averaged a 10th-place finish. Neither of his two wins in 2021 has come with this week's package.
6 #9 Chase Elliott (10-1) -- He won an Xfinity Series race at Darlington in 2014, and he's come close to a victory in the Cup Series, but it hasn't happened yet. He was seventh in May and was fourth in the first race last season. Elliott posted both his 2021 wins using this week's race package, and he's part of a Hendrick team that should have a great day.
7 #22 Joey Logano (15-1) -- I've already made my bet on him, even though he's never won a Cup Series race at Darlington, but he did win a 2012 Xfinity Series race there. He was 13th in May and has four top-fives in 15 starts on the track. I like him this week because of his performance all season with the 750-horsepower package. It's what he's used to grab all eight of his top-fives and only victory (Bristol Dirt Race) of the year.
8 #48 Alex Bowman (20-1) -- His best finish at Darlington was the first of three races last season in which he was runner-up, and then he was sixth in this race. He was 17th there in May. Since his win at Dover in May, Bowman hasn't had a top-five finish using this week's package, a span of seven races. He still has Hendrick race equipment, which makes him capable of winning.
9 #20 Christopher Bell (30-1) -- Four Cup Series starts at Darlington have produced a 20th-place average finish. It's a tough place for most young drivers, but he'll have a car capable of racing for the win like his JGR teammates, and he's been really good in the low downforce package - which includes his only win on the Daytona Road Course.
10 #12 Ryan Blaney (22-1) -- He's gathered more Darlington Stripes than good races there, averaging a 19th-place finish in nine starts. He gets high marks for top-fives in two of his last three races using the 750-HP package. Blaney will be riding the momentum from his Daytona Superspeedway win last week.
11 #2 Brad Keselowski (15-1) -- He's averaged an 11th-place finish in 15 Cup Series starts at Darlington, including his only win in 2018, five top-fives and 384 laps led. He has found the front in nine of his last 10 races there.
12 #1 Kurt Busch (40-1) -- In 27 Cup Series starts at Darlington, he has only four top-fives and a 16th-place average finish. He's led 365 laps over his career on the 1.336-mile layout. He'll be driving Michael Jordan's No. 45 Toyota next season, joining Bubba Wallace's No. 23.
13 #8 Tyler Reddick (40-1) -- He drives like someone that has had success at Darlington because he's not all over the place. He saves his tires by running the same smooth lines every lap, and usually does so while running the high line. He'll get another Darlington Stripe on his right side, a badge of honor of sorts.
14 #4 Kevin Harvick (15-2) -- He and "The Lady in Black" have gotten along very well, especially in the 10 races since he joined SHR in 2014, when he won the first of three. He was ninth or better in all 10 races, with a win last September to begin the playoffs and another in May 2020, which was the first race back after the COVID-19 shutdown. Harvick was sixth at Darlington this season and leads all active drivers in top-five finishes (11), top-10s (16) and laps led (792) there. He hasn't been very good with the 750-HP package, recording only one top-five in 14 starts. He posted nine wins last year but none in 2021.
15 #6 Ryan Newman (300-1) -- His 10th-place in May was his first top-10 since finishing seventh in 2017. He recorded all seven of his top-fives at Darlington in his first 13 starts there. He has a 12.2 average finish and 339 laps led in 25 starts on the track.
16 #21 Matt DiBenedetto (60-1) -- He has a 20th-place average finish in nine Cup Series starts at Darlington, with a best of eighth in 2019, and was ninth last season.
17 #17 Chris Buescher (300-1) -- In eight Cup Series starts at Darlington, he has an 18th-place average finish but posted his career-best of ninth place in May. It's one of Roush Fenway Racing's better runs of the season.
18 #14 Chase Briscoe (300-1) -- He gets consideration this week due to high odds. running well of late, driving an SHR Ford and, maybe best of all, his win at Darlington in the Xfinity Series last season. He gets the track with the quirky corners on each side and the abrasiveness of the asphalt. In his first Cup Series start there in May, he finished 11th.
19 #10 Aric Almirola (75-1) -- The last time the series was on an oval with the 750-HP package was at New Hampshire in late July, and he won after leading 25 laps. Stewart-Haas Racing has improved drastically. The track itself has been tough on Almirola, as he's averaged an 18th-place finish in 12 Cup Series starts.
20 #42 Ross Chastain (100-1) -- After three Cup Series finishes of 28th or worse at Darlington, he came in a career-best 15th on May 9 and even led his first laps (10). The low downforce package has been his most consistent in the second half of the season.